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United States The Almighty Buck Science

Obama Says 3% of GDP Should Fund Science Research And Development 753

Posted by samzenpus
from the that's-a-lot-of-test-tubes dept.
tritonman writes "Obama wants to set a goal that the US spend 3% of its GDP on scientific research and development. 'I believe it is not in our character, American character, to follow — but to lead. And it is time for us to lead once again. I am here today to set this goal: we will devote more than 3 percent of our GDP to research and development,' Obama said in a speech at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences."
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Obama Says 3% of GDP Should Fund Science Research And Development

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  • Administration (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jgtg32a (1173373) on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:16PM (#27734531)
    I'm for this if they can keep administration costs below 1 billion.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Q-Hack! (37846) *

      Let me be the first to say... WTF?

      How about we stop runnaway spending and reduce the national debt. All five of the last presidents have had this idea that we can just spend to our hearts content. We are dangerously close to the point that the rest of the world will say enough is enough and stop buying our debt. When this happens, we as Americans will be in a world of Sh!t. I know that people are going to say this is one of Obama's greatest plans, however, we allready spend billions on R&D through D

      • Re:Administration (Score:4, Insightful)

        by LordKazan (558383) on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:34PM (#27734841) Homepage Journal

        all five?

        clinton had the budget balanced and in a yearly surplus by the end of his two terms

        also to everyone: nowhere in that entire article did he propose that it be a government taxing to spend that money - sounds like he means "the government and private entities combined should".

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Z34107 (925136)

          Clinton had a "balanced budget" but a Republican congress.

          Guess which drafts the budget?

          Also notice how little difference party allegiance makes - Republicans were in congress during the Bush years as well.

          More on topic... "the government and private entities combined should" as opposed to "a government taxing to spend that money" - the implications of that are absolutely scary.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by camperdave (969942)
            Party allegiance should make no difference at all. A budget is basic mathematics. In>out: good. In<out: bad.
            • Re:Administration (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Grishnakh (216268) on Monday April 27, 2009 @04:11PM (#27735583)

              Actually, it should, if you go by what the Parties say. Democrats have long been known as "tax and spend"; they're famous for wanting big government programs. Of course, it's still possible to have a balanced budget by simply raising taxes to pay for this.

              But the Republicans have long painted themselves as "fiscally responsible", "small government", "low taxes", etc. However, the 8 years of Bush have shown us that that's a lie: when the Republicans were in control, we got BIGGER government, and ridiculous deficit spending (not fiscally responsible).

              So what it boils down to is that the Republicans, by their actions, have proven that they firmly believe in deficit spending, that we can borrow an endless amount of money for whatever our government wants to do. So yes, party allegiance makes a difference: if they're Republicans, they simply don't believe in following a budget.

        • Re:Administration (Score:5, Interesting)

          by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Monday April 27, 2009 @04:12PM (#27735613)

          clinton had the budget balanced and in a yearly surplus by the end of his two terms

          Oddly enough, the National Debt increased every year of Clinton's terms of office.

          Strange that he could manage a "balanced budget" while the National Debt increased, isn't it?

          Note, for the record, that the National Debt increased by over 28% during Clinton's terms. And by about $150 billion during the two years he supposedly had a "balanced budget".

          Note further that Obama's planned 2010 budget has a deficit larger than the increase in national debt during Clinton's two terms. And that this doesn't include the stimulus spending, which is a whole 'nuther pile of money.

        • Re:Administration (Score:4, Insightful)

          by rolfwind (528248) on Monday April 27, 2009 @04:25PM (#27735895)

          clinton had the budget balanced and in a yearly surplus by the end of his two terms

          That's a lie. In the 1990s, there was a huge surplus in social security, which politicians took out and replaced with an IOU, and used that to cover other programs. It was never truly balanced.

          Clinton is the least worst. But lets not play shell games and kid ourselves.

          As to the subject at hand, during WW2, the US government voided all patents dealing with radio in order to boost innovation in that area and it really did.

          At a minimum cost to taxpayers, they could reform and simplify copyright and patent law for the people and to help small businesses.

          But they won't. They'll probably have guns and butter instead.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by frosty_tsm (933163)

        All five of the last presidents have had this idea that we can just spend to our hearts content.

        Does this include that one guy who balanced the budget?

        (I'm not saying you don't make good points; I agree we need to get things under control.)

      • Re:Administration (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Drakkenmensch (1255800) on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:39PM (#27734925)

        How about we stop runnaway spending and reduce the national debt. All five of the last presidents have had this idea that we can just spend to our hearts content. We are dangerously close to the point that the rest of the world will say enough is enough and stop buying our debt. When this happens, we as Americans will be in a world of Sh!t.

        Agreed. Let's start with the biggest tax drain of all: military budget.

        • Re:Administration (Score:4, Informative)

          by amliebsch (724858) on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:57PM (#27735263) Journal
          Except...it's not. Just FYI.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Arakageeta (671142)

          Going against popular perception, defense spending "only" makes up 21% of the national budget (in 2008). 21% was spent on social security and 23% was spent on medicare/medicaid. That is, 45% is going towards the elderly and those in medical need. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_federal_budget)

          With the baby boomers starting to retire, it is inevitable that taxes will be raised to cover them. In my opinion, social security reform is more important that defense spending reform.

          Of course many wil

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by loteck (533317)

        We are dangerously close to the point that the rest of the world will say enough is enough and stop buying our debt.

        [citation needed]

      • Re:Administration (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Joe Snipe (224958) on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:42PM (#27734987) Homepage Journal

        DARPA isn't enough. If we had a broader mission for R&D than "defense" initiatives, we would be in a position to licence government owned IP to the corporate world without having to wait out our licenses in the name of national security. Having such a commodity reduces the tax burden on on the citizen (from license fees), reduces the corporate need for an R&D dept (lower cost to consumer) and increases quality of publicly available tech (from not being forced to design for maximum profit).

        Unfortunately, I don't think this is what anyone has in mind, so get ready for more suck.

      • Re:Administration (Score:4, Insightful)

        by John Whitley (6067) on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:44PM (#27735023) Homepage

        How about we stop runnaway spending and reduce the national debt.

        Spending on R&D should be expected to have a substantial return on investment. That is, it makes money. This is about reinvesting in ourselves in a way that maintains and enhances US technical and scientific leadership, which has both economic and political implications and benefits. Industry, by design, doesn't have the attention span for basic research or even for a lot of really useful applied work.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        How about we stop runnaway spending and reduce the national debt.

        One doesnt' exclude the other at all. First off, tech creates new jobs, that's a pretty well-known fact.
        Second, government spending is only part of it, the % of GDP figure includes business spending on R&D.

        Last but not least, you don't actually have a choice. Other countries are spending more, and increasingly so. Sweden already spends nearly 5% of their GDP on R&D. Do you want to be a leader or a follower? The USA is increasingly

      • Re:Administration (Score:5, Interesting)

        by brkello (642429) on Monday April 27, 2009 @04:56PM (#27736593)
        The spending is to avoid going in to a depression. Both liberal and conservative economists agree that spending is how to avoid that. But I understand how that would scare the living crap out of Libertarian. Is it the right thing to do? I'm not sure, but I am willing to give the economists the benefit of the doubt for a few years. Besides, it isn't like we are blowing money on an illegal war. We are spending money on our own country. So yeah, we are spending a lot, but we are spending it on us, not the middle east.
  • So... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SwabTheDeck (1030520) on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:17PM (#27734549)
    ...how much were we spending before? This doesn't seem like a tremendously large number.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mc1138 (718275)
      Not sure on previous numbers, but the article says that 3% equals about 420 billion dollars. Not too shabby, and should be taken into consideration that this is for government spending and will only seek to compliment the money spent privately. I'd love to know if this includes other science based programs such as NASA or if it will be in addition to some of that. Either way, it gets a thumbs up from me!
    • Re:So... (Score:5, Informative)

      by LotsOfPhil (982823) on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:25PM (#27734709)

      ...how much were we spending before? This doesn't seem like a tremendously large number.

      2.6% [bbc.co.uk] The EU's goal is 3%, too.

  • But wait... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ivan256 (17499) on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:17PM (#27734551)

    We already spend more than 3% of GDP on Science R&D....

    Oh, he means the government should spend 3% of GDP on R&D. Of course. Can't trust that shifty-eyed private industry. You know... The ones generating the GDP.

    • Re:But wait... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by zifr (1467429) on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:19PM (#27734581)
      You mean like Merck? I agree, we can't trust them. http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=09/04/25/1626200&from=rss [slashdot.org]
    • Re:But wait... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mooingyak (720677) on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:33PM (#27734825)

      Gov can do R&D into things like cheap medicine made from easily found natural ingredients and things like that. Stuff that has tremendous use but little in the way of profit margin.

      Even if a company like Merck were 100% ethically run they wouldn't do this sort of stuff because there is no profit margin.

  • Do want (Score:5, Insightful)

    by the4thdimension (1151939) on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:20PM (#27734599) Homepage
    I am a big supporter of getting back into a R&D based funding operation. And I don't mean we should be R&Ding war tools, we should be developing better telecommunications tools, better healthcare tools, better computers for both business and consumer, better cars, better planes, better boats, better shipping technology... everything. There is no reason that America shouldn't be the world leader in all of these things.
    • Re:Do want (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Churla (936633) on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:25PM (#27734701)

      Have you stopped to consider how many of the innovations America has given the world came from.. dare I say this... researching "war toys"?

      Computers as we know them today? The Atomic Age?

      The need to find newer, faster, and more efficient ways to kill people has always been a phenomenal "mother of invention"

      Easiest way to get the country developing alternate energy technology? Declare that starting 2-4 years from now the US government won't buy any ground vehicles for the government or military that don't run on renewable fuels.

      And that we won't build any new bases or government facilities that aren't solar or powered by renewable energy sources.

      • Re:Do want (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Jeremi (14640) on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:34PM (#27734837) Homepage

        The need to find newer, faster, and more efficient ways to kill people has always been a phenomenal "mother of invention"

        All very true, largely because the military has always had an extremely large budget with which to fund research related to its goals.

        Now, imagine what our scientists and engineers could do with that same budget, but also with a directive to use it in the areas that will best help our country. I think we would likely get an even better return on our investment if we were actually trying for those benefits, as opposed to just developing weapons and occasionally finding that the same research happens to have constructive uses as well.

  • sincerely hope.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EvilToiletPaper (1226390) on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:21PM (#27734621)
    FTA:
    In recent years, he said, "scientific integrity has been undermined and scientific research politicized in an effort to advance predetermined ideological agendas." He then drew chuckles, commenting: "I want to be sure that facts are driving scientific decisions, not the other way around," Obama said.


    hope none of the 420$ billion makes it's way towards the discovery institute.
  • Sez who? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dazedNconfuzed (154242) on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:27PM (#27734735)

    How about we let individuals and businesses decide where they're going to put their R&D money, not some ivory-tower bureaucrats who are firmly removed from reality?

    Really: when it comes to deciding what to do with 3% of your income, don't you want YOU making that decision, instead of total strangers you don't know and who know you less and who are operating on non-sequitor ulterior motives?

    • Re:Sez who? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:36PM (#27734877)

      no.

      Corporations only research things that will potentially make them money. Therefore, some things, like rare diseases, will never be researched. Individuals in academics will research it, but they need grant money in order to do so.

    • Re:Sez who? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by neuromanc3r (1119631) on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:41PM (#27734975)

      How about we let individuals and businesses decide where they're going to put their R&D money, not some ivory-tower bureaucrats who are firmly removed from reality?

      Because individuals and business don't really have any reason (or the means) to do a lot of basic research. Think of CERN or the Manhattan Project. Do you think those kind of research would be done if it wasn't paid for by the government?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ZirbMonkey (999495)

      Because microwave ovens, lasers, LEDs, solar cells, and satellites wouldn't be around if it weren't for pure research in the fields of physics, chemistry, and material science. Businesses will decide what research is profitable once theren't enough solid knowledge and know how to make the efficient and effective. Businesses don't invent things from scratch, they rework what's already known into a commercial product.

    • Re:Sez who? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by deadboy2000 (739605) on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:48PM (#27735101)

      How about we let individuals and businesses decide where they're going to put their R&D money, not some ivory-tower bureaucrats who are firmly removed from reality?

      ?

      Well, "individuals and business" seem to think that Baconnaise and Chocolate Chip Pancakes & Sausage on a Stick are the best way to spend R&D money, so . . . no.

  • by tcopeland (32225) <tom.thomasleecopeland@com> on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:30PM (#27734771) Homepage

    Rand Simberg asks why express it in terms of percentage of GDP rather than in terms of percentage of federal budget? [transterrestrial.com]. The budget is something that the president has some control over...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jfengel (409917)

      Because he doesn't want the federal government to be the only entity funding R&D.

      This isn't a matter of the national budget. It's a matter of getting the entire country to start thinking of R&D as something important.

      In 2007, research spending was $324 billion, out of a total GDP of $14 trillion, or 2.3%. Obama's calling for everybody (mostly big corporations) to spend 50% more on it, because it's research that grows the GDP as a whole. And if we're ever going to get out of the deeeeep economic h

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:31PM (#27734805)

    While this sounds like a good idea, I worked for a while at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory. It was the poster child of government waste. Most of the funding we received was from the DOE and the DOD. Back in its hay-day the INEL was a front runner in nuclear research. Now its a money-pit. 2/3rds of all grant money is skimmed off the top for "overhead" (pays for buildings, security, office space, etc). To make matters worse, each engineer/scientist has a billable rate. This billable rate is again 2/3rds overhead. Half of your time goes to writing grants to get more money. Very few people there were doing actual science. It was very sad for me to experience directly after getting my degree.

    The INEL is not alone in its current state. People I worked with from other labs have similar or worse horror stories.

    I understand the desire, I just don't have enough confidence in our government to not botch it up.

  • by rev_sanchez (691443) on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:34PM (#27734829)
    Unless you want to pit your galleys against Aztec ironclads you'll want an R&D of 20% until you get infantry and artillery. After that you can dial it down to 10% and focus on production.
  • Wrong (Score:3, Interesting)

    by clarkkent09 (1104833) * on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:35PM (#27734849)
    I want to support science, but at the same time I am reluctant to take other people's money by force and pass it on to the unelected government bureaucrats to decide which project is worthy (or in practice which scientists can beg the loudest) of getting a share of it. The whole process is inefficient, immoral and fraught with possibilities for waste and abuse. Eliminate income tax and replace it with voluntary program where people can donate a share of their income to be used for purposes of their choice and if they want to fund science fine, if they don't then they accept the risk that they and their children will be living in a country that is lagging behind in science. What is wrong with that?
    • Re:Wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ShadowRangerRIT (1301549) on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:42PM (#27735005)

      Eliminate income tax and replace it with voluntary program where people can donate a share of their income to be used for purposes of their choice and if they want to fund science fine, if they don't then they accept the risk that they and their children will be living in a country that is lagging behind in science. What is wrong with that?

      If I pay for this research, then everyone gets the benefits. If someone else pays for it, then everyone still gets the benefits. But what if everyone waits for someone else to pay for it?

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Monday April 27, 2009 @03:56PM (#27735239)
    ... he would get Congress to repeal the Bayh-Dole Act, and give the fruits of publicly-funded research back to the real researchers and the public, instead of allowing it to be monopolized by department heads and multinational corporations.
  • by DrLudicrous (607375) on Monday April 27, 2009 @10:24PM (#27740563) Homepage

    I am a scientist who believes strongly that government funding of R&D needs to be increased. Often times, I hear the argument that it is not the government's role to do this. Most of our basic R&D now occurs in the universities and the national labs. But it wasn't always so.

    Several years ago, I was an intern at Bell Labs, in Murray Hil, NJ, the main research engine of AT&T before the 1984 breakup. Some of the greatest inventions of the 20th century were created there, including the transistor and the laser. The cosmic microwave background was discovered at Murray Hill as well, an example of a pure scientific discovery, serendipitous but yet made more likely by the concentration and dynamic of the brilliant minds working there. As time went on, the research became more and more applied, less basic, less fundamental.

    By the time I got there, Bell Labs was part of Lucent, which was a slave to its stock price. All kinds of financial shenanigans were going on in the background, and the business had become focused almost solely on fiber optics and other communications media/equipment. Some of the leftovers from the glory days of basic R&D were retiring, but there were still quite a few more recent hires. These people were let go during my summer. It was sad. It was the death of Bell Labs. All that were left were the old fogies and the people doing work related to the core business. Lucent's stock tanked, and the whole company became a shell of what it once was, and Bell Labs became special only in the history books.

    Bell Labs was the greatest death of the old industrial research powerhouses. Few are left, most notably IBM. But even these are more application-oriented than in the past. They depend on the government to fund basic R&D in its labs and universities to keep the technology engine revving. Should that process stop, perhaps industry will revert to its old way, but that will not be a quick process. For almost a generation, we would be left with our pants down while our global competitors assert the lead in the technology race. This will put us at not just an economic disadvantage, but in poor strategic positioning politically. It is paramount that we fund basic R&D via government funds now. If we desire a different system where private industry does the brunt of basic R&D, then we must redesign the system via proper incentives to allow for a smooth transition to such a paradigm. Maintaining science funding at the levels they are at right now is not sustainable in the short term- the quicker we enhance funding, the better off we will be.

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